20-minute hot take: 2017 Volvo S90 Pilot Assist

I’ve spent the last couple of days at a Northwest Automotive Press Association driving event, and the last car of the two dozen or so I drove was the 2017 Volvo S90 with the latest version of IntelliSafe, which includes City Safety, Pilot Assist, and more. I’ve already put my name on the list for a more extensive test drive, but even with less than 30 minutes of drive time, I noticed differences.

In the spring, I had a Volvo XC90 SUV with the last version of this “semi autonomous drive system” — Volvo’s words, not mine — and I found it worked well then. The version in the S90 sedan is new and indeed improved. The lane keeping assist felt more assured, and the Pilot Assist technology worked up to 80 mph.

I had a stretch of highway headed toward Portland, Oregon, to navigate in the early afternoon. I didn’t get anywhere near 80 mph, but that was fine for a quick test of the new system. There were open stretches where the car could get up to the speed limit of 55 mph, where I’d set the automatic cruise control. There were also congested stretches with cars speeding up and slowing way down across four lanes of traffic.

Pilot Assist worked seamlessly in these conditions to read traffic and slow down when appropriate then speed up again when traffic got moving. It did a particularly good job when vehicles were merging onto the highway and I was in the right lane to take the next exit.

But one of the most noticeable changes was that Pilot Assist no longer needs a lead car to lock onto. Even on those less congested stretches of road, Pilot Assist kept me at a constant speed and in my lane with minimum input from me, though I did need to monitor the situation in case anyone around me tried anything weird.

When I needed to take that exit or merge into traffic myself, Pilot Assist took a break and the indicators went dark to let me know I was in charge. I would take over for the tricky parts of driving, and when things were easy and repetitive again, I reset the system and let it do most of the work.

I kept my eyes on the road and my hands lightly on the wheel. If you take your hands completely off the wheel, Pilot Assist turns off. This is a step in the direction of semi autonomous vehicles, not a self-driving vehicle. Yet.

There are other safety features I wasn’t able to test on an urban highway, like the S90’s ability to detect pedestrians and bicyclists with City Safety, as well as Large Animal Detection when outside the city. I was also alone in the car, so I wasn’t able to get pictures of the Pilot Assist features in the console display while they were active.